Dawn Ray’d are without a doubt one of the most politically outspoken, gloriously inspiring and passionate black metal bands in Europe right now. Appearing at Roadburn and Bloodshed Fest; touring the UK and Europe with amazing bands like Unyielding Love and Ancst; or going full-throttle on the verge of metal extremes with Full of Hell, Wiegedood and many others, the Liverpudlian trio have had a great year in 2018.
Crafting their new record and heading to the first edition of Black Flags Over Brooklyn festival in NYC, we feel there’s no better way to kick-off our interview section for 2019 than inciting an interesting conversation with the Dawn Ray’d singer, violinist and lyricist Simon B. on the topics of black metal lyrcism, DIY ethos and militant antifascism.
Hello! I’d like to start things off by trying to get some background on how the do-it-yourself and anarchist ethos have shaped the lives of all of you in Dawn Ray’d. What was the impetus to become interested in something beyond the mainstream music and dominant social narratives?
Wow, big question. I guess, like a lot of other people, I have always wanted to play in bands, record music and play shows. As I got to my early twenties, I realized that if I was serious about that, then I would have to commit myself to pursuing it pretty hard.
Capitalism sucks, the society we live in is increasingly alienating and lonely, full-time employment is a drudgery. This system chases all adventure out to the edges of society, so it is in radical subcultures and politics that some of that adventure is found.
Playing music with other people—in whatever form you choose—is one of the most wonderful things you can do; it opens up, quite literally, the whole world to you.
Some people choose a comfortable life, some people choose a meaningful life. I like to see us all as the latter!
Why did you start a straight up black metal band and what kind of narrative do you have in your head when creating this kind of underground music? How important do you feel it is for musicians, artists, or writers to communicate political topics and themes through their art?
We used to play in a couple of DIY bands before this but they all came to a natural end. By the time, we had already discussed that next band we’ll do would be a straight-forward black metal band. We had all played in black metal inspired bands before, so it was refreshing to fully commit to one genre.
I really like imaginative music—screamo, black metal and death metal are the three types of heavy music that are the most imaginative, I think. In their lyrics, song structures and just general atmosphere. On top of that though, I personally think singing about political issues is incredibly important right now, for me it is a top priority.
I think everyone—no matter who they are—should be focused on making this world a better place. We know now that in a terrifyingly short amount of time we will have done catastrophic damage to the environment, which will cause millions of people to be displaced; and that’s something the far-right will use to gain control.
There is no happy ending under capitalism, and time is running out. I believe everyone, no matter where they are, should be doing their best to resist this capitalist system and provide full support and solidarity for those who are victims of the chaos it causes.
Be that singing about it, organizing in your workplace or fighting fascists in the streets, the time is now.
What do you think of all the misanthropy, negativity and darkness not only in black metal but in hardcore and metal music in general? It’s like with all the dystopian and overall negative future presented in sci-fi literature and movies, but shouldn’t we aim for a more positive, empowering and utopian themes to help us imagine a better future than that?
I don’t think the focus on darkness and the dramatic does any harm. Most of the films, books, plays, or songs are about something negative; be it political or about heartbreak or grief. We all experience negative emotions but art and culture help us process those things more easily. There are shitty attitudes in heavy music for sure, but they would exist regardless of the subject matter. I think you see that in all sections of society.
In my opinion, the problem with overtly positive or jolly creative practice is that it comes across as a bit insincere or smug. For me, I can’t promise a utopian future, because the future we are faced with is very bleak. We can create something much better, but we first have to understand how high the stakes are; and how bad the future will be if we don’t fight back now.
The short answer would be that the world is fucked and full of hurt, so music and art reflect that!
Talking about the shitty attitudes in heavy music, why do you think there are so many fascists in black metal? How can we inspire more antifascist attitude and make the metal scene start fighting back?
The Nazi bullshit came about because of a handful of teenagers in the 1990s looking to be rebellious. They’ve realized that just being ‘Anti-Christian’ wasn’t actually that shocking, so they said a few edgy things about the next cultural no-go zone—racism. This was capitalized upon by some European and American far-right organizations, and the rest is history.
It was also compounded by the fact that Blood & Honour had been so badly beaten by the Antifascist Action in the UK that racist Oi! (or RAC) was basically over, so the boneheads needed a new cultural youth movement to spread their ideas. Since then, people have used the power behind those ideas to make themselves feel powerful or intimidating, a pretty cowardly and cheap trick.
I think people have already started fighting back. There is a small but robust group of bands that have dared to speak out about this. It just needs more people to do it, and the more people that speak out against injustice the safer it is for everyone. I think we have already turned a corner though, and the next few years will see the metal scene becoming much more politicized. There has also long been a string tradition of bands like Napalm Death, Bolt Thrower, Carcass, etc. that have been explicitly left-wing for decades.
Added to that, fascism has only recently become a very real threat again, and so only now is antifascism starting to grow again.
Greek scholar Spyros Marketos says that fascists do not have any real ideology, they just have slogans instead. So our first task is to deconstruct the fascist slogans in order to mobilize a mass movement against fascist groups and prevent them from terrorizing the streets. Do you agree?
Yes, 100%. Their ideas are all reactionary, populist and divisive. They will say anything to gain power.
They don’t have any genuine integrity or conviction, and there is no consistent fascist or far-right ideology other than division and scapegoating. They also constantly repackage outdated conservative ideas around gender and race; ideas that are not worth even entertaining, and if you do engage with these ideas, you will be talking in circles with them forever.
It is so important to ‘no-platform’ them: if you engage in a discussion with someone who believes in Eugenics, or anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, you inadvertently give those ideas weight by conceding that they are even worth hearing or discussing.
We don’t need a debate on whether we should let people move across borders, we don’t need to work out whether or not black people are equal to white people, whether women should be allowed to work, divorce, or access abortion. There is no reason to discuss if we should allow people to love whoever they want regardless of gender. We don’t need to hear someone try and convince us that trans* people shouldn’t be allowed autonomy over their own bodies. These are all very old, outdated ideas that are just being used to divide us and keep us from focusing on the real enemy: the capitalist class.
Nick Griffin, prominent white nationalist and leader of the BNP, was brought onto a television debate on the BBC where a liberal panel and studio audience all laughed at him, then support for the BNP soared in the following days as a result of him being given the chance to broadcast his views.
Bolsonaro was featured a number of times on liberal talk show CQC in Brazil with the belief that his own stupidity would undermine him and people would see him for the monster he was. Monica Iozzi, one of the presenters, said they deeply regretted giving him air time and felt she had inadvertently contributed to him gaining support when it became clear he would win the election.
If they persist and try to build a movement in the streets, then physical persuasion is a good way to stop them. We either challenge and destroy that shit now, or we will have a bigger more dangerous enemy to defeat in the future.
Fascism is worthless, dangerous, and not to be debated. It is to be crushed by any means necessary.
Across his path the steel-nerved slayer waits
“And both shall burn together,”—one in light
Of unconsuming hell and reddened night;
And one with feet on hell and brow dawn-ray’d,
Your name comes from a quote by Voltairine de Cleyre. Which anarchist revolutionaries or writers have been influential to you? Also, what’s different in writing anarchist lyrics for a black metal band compared to, for example, Crass-style anarcho-punk or crust?
I really like de Cleyre’s idea of ‘Anarchism without adjectives’, the idea that, although there are many approaches to achieving anarchism, as long as we are all based around anarchism of some kind then we are on the same side. And that when anarchism is achieved, different communities will be structured in different ways; as long as there isn’t exploitation, then the different ideas will all be compatible. Many Indigenous groups organize horizontally along ideas very similar to anarchism, but have some slight differences and different words to describe it for example.
I’m reading “Anarchy” by Malatesta at the moment, he is amazing. He has one of the best practical understandings of anarchism and how it translates to everyday life.
Murray Bookchin has revolutionized the green and ecological struggles, pointing out the very problematic discussions about population sizes, etc.
The Kurdish struggle is really inspiring, and of course the Zapatistas are amazing too.
When writing lyrics, I try to be a bit more subtle with how I discuss political ideas; and also take quite an emotional approach. Crust and punk lends itself to quite straight-forward sloganeering, whereas black metal is meant to be emotional and fantastical.
I love the songs “Let The Boots Do The Talking” (Oi Polloi) or “Do They Owe Us A Living?” (Crass), but those lyrics would sound quite jarring over introspective and sad sounding music. You have to pitch it accordingly, I think. I read a lot of poetry to try and inspire myself, I’m really into Michelle Cahill, TS Elliot, John Burnside and John Kinsella at the moment. I like that very imaginative, fragmented and descriptive way of writing, and I do my best to rip that off!
I think maybe some people might accuse the politics in our band of being somehow contrived or cynical, but I can’t think of anything else more important to write about. These are the issues that make me angry, make me cry; and the resistance that makes me truly happy. Our first EP had equal parts personal lyrics and political ones, but I’ve written less and less personal lyrics recently; and this new record is entirely political themes.
I don’t have time to write songs about Satanism or middle earth (as amazing as that can be!) amidst the chaos that is capitalism right now.
Does being on a big metal label such as Prosthetic Records compromise your DIY ideals in any way?
Oh, tough question! We don’t actually see Dawn Ray’d as a DIY band to be honest. We Came Out Like Tigers was very strictly DIY; we booked everything ourselves, released on DIY labels, etc, and that was amazing at the time.
This time around though, I’ve done that route, and although we started out quite DIY, we have decided to relinquish/compromise on some of those ideas.
We are more vocal and more militant politically than ever before, and I want to see the ideas of antifascism and anarchism become a staple in heavy music. There are two ways to achieve this: help strengthen the existing left-wing music scenes, and take these politics into spaces that don’t usually hear about them.
You realize quite quickly that the DIY scene, like any scene, is a bubble, and everyone agrees with us when we say bash the fash, fuck all governments, or stop eating animals; we aren’t changing anyone’s mind or introducing new ideas. The music festivals that have right-wing bands playing, that have young people susceptible to being exploited by fascism are the places that need left-wing, political bands to play, and need discussions about resistance.
The shows where marginalized people are threatened by right-wing ideas are shows that need antifascism. We can’t preach to the choir forever.
In terms of how we run this band, we have a contract on a big label and we have booking agents, we don’t have any kind of management and still do the majority of the work needed to keep this band going, but Dawn Ray’d has already ruffled more Nazi feathers than our old DIY bands ever did. I’m glad DIY exists, and I love that scene so much, but we need to be outward looking too.
Do you still have the time to be involved in your local community and how’s the scene in Liverpool going on right now? Are there any good DIY and political bands, venues, collectives, zines, etc.?
I consider myself to be pretty involved in my local community in a very practical and local sense. I’m less involved in the music scene than I have been in previous years. I’ve stopped putting on shows as I just don’t have time, but I work in construction which is useful when wanting to be involved in DIY spaces and venues!
Liverpool is a very left-wing city, it has a history of syndicalism, there are a lot of hunt sabs here too. The antifascist movement is really strong, there’s a movement called ‘Shun The Sun’, which tries to stop the sale of The Sun newspaper, a really horrid but very popular right-wing national ‘newspaper’ (I use that term loosely) which is really successful, it’s impossible to buy that paper anywhere in Liverpool.
Drop The Dumbulls is the best DIY venue at the moment, we have loads to close down in recent years.
There’s a group of people doing straight edge hardcore shows called L1HC and they have a sister label called Counter Culture Records, all nice people and politically right on.
Bands that are awesome from Liverpool: Dragged Into Sunlight, Coltsblood and Queen Zee. There’s probably a bunch more, I’m getting old.
There’s a group called Radical Womxns Dance Party who organize benefit and fundraising dance parties, political actions and activism workshops, they are amazing. For the last one it was womxn and non-binary people only and they had Fuck Borders shirts printed especially.
In just a few days, you’re going to play at Black Flags Over Brooklyn 2019 along with some other great bands from both the hardcore and metal scene! Are you excited about this event? I guess, you’re also working on a new record, is this gonna be the most productive year for Dawn Ray’d so far?
It’s been quite intense recently for sure. We are writing a new record, which will be released this year. It’s almost finished and we are recording pretty soon too. We write the songs all together, so it’s quite labour intensive. We write it all in the practice room, so that means we write things we can always recreate live. Writing 10 sets of lyrics feels like a lot of work for sure.
I’m stoked to play the fest in Brooklyn! There’s loads of bands I’m really excited about seeing and meeting, bands like Racetraitor who have been saying all this stuff for years. Being politically outspoken isn’t the easiest path to take, so I’m stoked to be able to chat to a lot of bands that are doing a similar thing. Also I love playing shows, and especially love playing festivals!
We are going back to the States in May too for a full tour, then we will start again to promote this next record…
Thank you very much. Anything to add, some final thoughts maybe?
We live in crazy times, but we have so much revolutionary potential. We need to make sure that it isn’t co-opted by liberals and capitalists.
Whether Democrat or Republican, Labour or Tory, liberal or conservative, don’t vote for them, don’t let them govern over you, and don’t ever trust a government!